Clinical Versus Counseling Psychology: What's the Diff? by John C. Norcross - University of Scranton, Fields of Psychology Graduate School The majority of psychology students applying to graduate school are interested in clinical work, and approximately half of all graduate degrees in psychology are awarded in the subfields of clinical and counseling psychology (Mayne, Norcross, & Sayette, 2000). But deciding on a health care specialization in psychology gets complicated. The urgent question facing each student--and the question frequently posed to academic advisors--is "What are the differences between clinical psychology and counseling psychology?" Or, as I am asked in graduate school workshops, "What's the diff?" This article seeks to summarize the considerable similarities and salient differences between these two psychology subfields on the basis of several recent research studies. The results can facilitate your informed choice in the application process, enhance matching between the specialization and your interests, and sharpen the respective identities of psychology training programs. Considerable Similarities The distinctions between clinical psychology and counseling psychology have steadily faded in recent years, leading many to recommend a merger of the two. Graduates of doctorallevel clinical and counseling psychology programs are generally eligible for the same professional benefits, such as psychology licensure, independent practice, and insurance reimbursement. The American Psychological Association (APA) ceased distinguishing many years ago between clinical and counseling psychology internships: there is one list of accredited internships for both clinical and counseling psychology students. Both types of programs prepare doctoral-level psychologists who provide health care services and, judging from various studies of their respective professional activities, there are only a few meaningful differences between them (e.g., Gaddy, Charlot-Swilley, Nelson, & Reich, 1995; Norcross, Karg, & Prochaska, 1997; Watkins, Lopez, Campbell, & Himmell, 1986). Put differently, students interested in a career in psychological health care should certainly consider both clinical psychology and counseling psychology in their initial deliberations. Of course, we are addressing here counseling psychology, a doctoral-level field in psychology, not the master's-level profession of counseling. Salient Differences At the same time, a few differences between clinical psychology and counseling psychology are still visible and may impact your application decisions. Here are thumbnail sketches of these differences. Size Clinical psychology doctoral programs are more numerous than counseling psychology doctoral programs: In 1999, there were 194 APA-accredited doctoral programs in clinical psychology and 64 APA-accredited doctoral programs in counseling psychology. Clinical psychology programs produce approximately 2,000 doctoral degrees per year (1,300 PhD and 600 to 700 PsyD), while counseling psychology programs graduate approximately 500 new psychologists per year. Location Clinical psychology graduate programs are almost exclusively housed in departments or schools of psychology, whereas counseling psychology graduate programs are located in a variety of
departments and divisions. A 1995 survey of APA-accredited counseling psychology programs found that 18% of them were housed in colleges of art and science, 75% were housed in schools of education, and 6% in interdepartmental or interinstitutional settings (Woerheide, 1996). Professional Activities The daily activities of clinical and counseling psychologists are highly similar. They devote the bulk of their day to psychotherapy, teaching, research, and supervision (Mayne et al., 2000). But there are a few robust differences: Clinical psychologists tend to work with more seriously disturbed populations and are more likely trained in projective assessment, whereas counseling...
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